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Past Winner
1996 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Catherine Kallin


McMaster University

There's plenty of excitement in condensed matter physics these days. And McMaster University physics professor Catherine Kallin and her collaborators are right at the centre of it. They have been studying microwave measurements on high-temperature superconductors, and using the data to determine the electrical and magnetic properties of these superconductors and to understand why the materials are superconductors at all.

"Our traditional understanding of superconductors, which were discovered in 1911, strongly suggests that superconductivity shouldn't exist above 30 degrees Absolute (-243 degrees Celsius)," explains Dr. Kallin. "But high-temperature" superconductivity (above 30 degrees Absolute) was discovered in 1986, and in subsequent years the temperature escalated to the present record of 160 degrees Absolute (-113 degrees Celsius). "There's a large body of evidence that points to electron-electron interactions as the cause of high-temperature superconductivity. But we're just now starting to address the question of what this means for the electrical and magnetic properties of these materials."

It was only by chance that Dr. Kallin, now recognized as one of the top condensed matter theorists in the world, got into physics. In high school she dropped physics after Grade 10. It was a community college course in "physics for poets" that piqued her interest in the subject and led her to the honours physics program at the University of British Columbia.

"The teacher of that physics for poets course was fantastic," recalls Dr. Kallin. "He connected physics to the real world." This experience has influenced Dr. Kallin's own teaching philosophy. "Traditional methods of teaching physics are aimed at those who are challenged more by the difficulty of problems, rather than by their significance," she says. "But we're not all excited by that - I certainly wasn't. What turned me on was understanding the impact and importance of physics and its connections to the world.

"I'm worried by studies which show that girls continue to turn away from math and science in high school, as I did. There is a wide range of careers for which knowledge in these areas is essential. Young women can shut themselves off from these opportunities before they even have a chance to realize what they are losing. We need to do more to encourage girls to stick with math and science."